Some learners may wonder why they would ever need to learn Japanese airport words. After all, aren’t most airports multilingual these days? While it is true that the major airports are indeed clearly marked in English (and many other languages), if you stay in Japan long enough, you will soon find yourself flying from one of the smaller airports in Japan and these can be a lot trickier to navigate.
When you visit these smaller airports expect to be baffled by signs covered in complicated kanji and information desks manned by staff that can’t handle anything other than basic conversations in English. At these places, knowing some airport Japanese may be the difference between making and missing your flight!
The first word that learners should learn are the two words for the airport itself. The most common one is 空港, but you may occasionally come across 飛行場, too. While this is simple, there are tricks here for the unwary as many airports these days have separate locations for national (国内 or 国内線) and international (国際 or 国際線) flights.
Once you have arrived at the right airport, you’ll want to check in. Unfortunately, the Japanese term for checking in is the tongue-twisting word 搭乗手続き. Luckily, for beginners who can’t wrap their tongues around this multi-syllable term, the English-origin word チェックイン has become more common recently and even smaller airports will likely understand it.
Thankfully, this borrowing of loanwords from English happens a lot at international places such as airports. 旅券 is actually the Japanese word for a passport, but even Japanese people prefer to use the English-origin word パスポート. Similarly, the different classes of flights are simply ファーストクラス (first class), ビジネスクラス (business class) and エコノミークラス (economy class).
When you visit these smaller airports expect to be baffled by signs covered in complicated kanji.
As well as your passport, you will need to hand your ticket over. A decade or so ago the only word that learners needed to learn was 航空券. However, recently this word has been joined by another English loanword Eチケット(with the “e” pronounced as いい) for tickets that were booked on the internet.
After this, you will be asked about your 荷物 (luggage) and 手荷物 (hand luggage). A verb that is often associated with this is 預ける (to check your bags). Be careful to check your weight allowance as you may also hear the dreaded word オーバー if your bags are over the allotted limit.
You will then be asked if you want an 通路側の席 (aisle) or a 窓側の席 (window) seat or — if you fancy being sandwiched between people for some reason — the 真ん中の席 (middle seat).
Finally, you will be issued your 搭乗券 (boarding pass) and you have completed checking in. Congratulations! However, this is not the end of the tricks that the airport can throw at you. Be sure to check things such as your 便名 (flight number) and your 出発 ゲート (departure gate) so as not to make mistakes.
When asking for directions to your gate, you will want to use the number of the gate, along with the word 番 (number) and the loanword ゲート (gate). So, if you depart from gate number 31, you would ask 31番ゲート.
It’s always worthwhile to learn as much airport Japanese as possible since even these days you can’t always rely on English-speaking staff and signs. Even if you never use any of it at the actual airport, there are lots of useful kanji and vocabulary that you can spend your abundant extra time (if you followed this guide, that is) relaxing in the business class departure lounge.